GOP lawmakers in Texas are rightly concerned with far-left ideology entrenching itself at Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Austin, and other state universities.
Senate Bill 17, which shuts down offices of so-called “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” will be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are pairing this legislation with Senate Bill 18 (SB 18), the original version of which passed the Senate and would eliminate tenure at all public universities.
Republicans on the Texas House Committee on public education appear to understand that abolishing tenure is counterproductive for conservatives, so they approved a substitute version of SB 18 that preserves tenure in some form. Unfortunately, this substitute version so severely weakens tenure that it will end up undermining conservative reform efforts even more than the original Senate bill.
The House’s version of SB 18 grants university leaders broad authority to summarily dismiss tenured professors for causes that are vague, such as “unprofessional conduct” and “moral turpitude.” Nowhere in the bill are these terms defined, and the common English definitions are so broad that they open the door for administrators to use them as pretexts to fire tenured faculty for political reasons.
For example, a conservative professor who refuses to use the preferred pronouns of a student could be accused of “moral turpitude.” A conservative who uses empirical evidence to argue against the proposition that so-called “systemic racism” causes all racial disparities, and in so doing offends a student whose “lived experience” says otherwise and hence claims to be “harmed,” could be accused of “unprofessional conduct” and summarily dismissed. The only due process the accused professor would get is a hearing in front of an administrator, who reports to the same university officials who want him dismissed.
Moreover, the bill defines tenure as giving faculty a property right over no more than one year’s salary. Thus, the most a wrongly dismissed tenured faculty member could ever recover in a lawsuit would be a year of pay. The prospect of having to pay such paltry damages provides no deterrent against the administration abusing their broad new powers under the House version of SB 18.
Advocates of tenure reform say they want to stop tenured faculty from shirking their duties, so there needs to be some process to remove them if they underperform. However, every public university in Texas already possesses robust post-tenure review systems and dismissal processes just for this purpose, and advocates of tenure reform in Texas have yet to present any evidence these processes are inadequate. Their bills are a solution to a non-existence problem.
Worse, by giving more power to the administration, SB 18 will hurt conservative faculty on campus. As argued elsewhere, and as Christopher Rufo has meticulously documented here and here, the administrations of the Texas universities are thoroughly in the hands of the “woke” left.
Administrators, not faculty, are the ones who made the woke takeover of our universities happen. The president of Texas A&M has gone so far as to approve a faculty diversity program that violated federal anti-discrimination law by creating new positions from which whites and Asians were barred.
If Texas legislators want to restore our public universities as institutions where scholars and students can explore all ideas, even those despised by the far left, the last thing they should do is pass SB 18 in any form. Even in its seemingly more benign House version, SB 18 does nothing but empower woke administrators to crush conservative dissent.
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